Ramsund Carving: Viking Inscription Speaks of Dragon Slayer
The legend of Sigurd is well known in both Norse and Germanic mythology and is included in texts from the Poetic Edda to Beowulf. Elements of the story have even been incorporated into modern tales such as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings .
Dating from the Viking Age, a group of runestones in eastern Sweden called Sigurd Stones, provide the earliest Norse depictions of the legend of Sigurd the dragon slayer. One, commonly called the Ramsund Carving or Sigurd Carving (Sigurdsristningen), is found close to Ramsund in Sweden and is unique as it is the only runic carving in the area etched into a rocky outcrop, rather than onto a standing stone. Additionally, a bridge was commissioned by the family to help the loved one’s soul reach heaven.
As Scandinavia became Christianized, bridge-building ventures were funded by the Church to gain local support as well as to represent the bridge to the afterlife, which melded into a culture accustomed to reaching the afterlife by boat.
The Ramsund Carving – Honoring a Beloved Family Member
Carved in around 1030 AD, the Ramsund Carving provides a pictorial account of the heroic feats of Sigurd. To say the inscription is ambiguous is an understatement. Each account has a different translation which contradicts another since they are translated from runestones and Old Norse. In addition, two of the names are very similar.
Detail of the Ramsund Carving ( Public Domain )
An aristocratic Viking family pledged the stone as a memorial to a departed family member, but the connection between the deceased and the Sigurd legend is somewhat mysterious. A popular interpretation is that the stone was carved in the name of Sigröd by his wife Sigribr, when he died. The link to the Sigurd legend is simply that Sigröd sounds and looks similar to the name Sigurd, so the family may have been making a heroic connection of some kind, but not everyone agrees that Sigröd was her husband - some claim Holmgeirr was her husband.
The Old Norse translation reads:
Sigriðr gærði bro þasi, moðiʀ Alriks, dottiʀ Orms, for salu Holmgæiʀs, faður Sigrøðaʀ, boanda sins.
One possible English translation:
Sigríðr, Alríkr's mother, Ormr's daughter, made this bridge for the soul of Holmgeirr, father of Sigrøðr, her husbandman.
The variation of the lady’s name alone seem to have caused great deal of confusion: Sigríðr, Sigriþr, Sigurd, Sigrid, while the man is Sigrøðr, Sigröd or also Sigrid.
The Imagery, However, Is Clear To All Who Know The Story Of Sigurd And Regin.
As a youth, Sigurd was fostered by a smith name Regin. Regin had a score to settle with his brother Fafnir, who had murdered their father Hreidmar, the king of the dwarves. Fafnir had stolen the gold paid to their family after Loki accidentally killed their brother Ótr, mistaking him for an otter. The main obstacle for Regin was that Fafnir had subsequently turned into a dragon thanks to a curse attached to the ring in amongst the treasure.
Sigurd was enlisted to the cause and was armed with a magic sword forged by Regin. He killed Fafnir and cut out his heart. While cooking the heart for Regin, he burnt his finger and sucked on it, ingesting the blood of the dragon which gave him the ability to understand the birds nearby who were discussing how Regin, also corrupted by the ring, was planning to betray and kill Sigurd. Instead, Sigurd chopped off Regin’s head and made off with the treasure, carried on the back of a horse, to engage in further adventures. Ótr (shown in the form of a dog-like animal) hovers over the events.
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Drawing of the Sigurd Saga (Public Domain)
The Bro and Kjula Runestone by the Same Family
The Bro Runestone is named after the church near which it is located. Along with the Kjula Runestone, it was raised by the same aristocratic family as the Ramsund carving, which allows scholars to study the family of Hakon Jarl mentioned on this runestone. He was thought to have been Swedish, and his son Özurr, may have been responsible for organizing the local defense organization against raiders. However, the only recorded organization of such a defense is from England and consequently both Hakon Jarl and his son Özurr may have been active in England in an army which served the Kings of England from 1013 to 1051. A professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University maintains that Hakon is the same as the one who is mentioned on the Södra Betby Runestone. Hakon Jarl would then be the Norwegian, Hákon Eiríksson, who was Earl of Lade and governor of Norway as a vassal under Knut the Great.
Sigurd and Regin, 1885 ( Fotolia)
Both names have been identified with the Varangian chieftain Yakun who is mentioned in the Primary Chronicle. The work is considered to be a fundamental source in the interpretation of the history of the Eastern Slavs.
The English translation of the Bro Runestone reads as:
"Ginnlaug, Holmgeirr's daughter, Sigrøðr and Gautr's sister, she had this bridge made and this stone raised in memory of Ôzurr, her husbandman, earl Hákon's son. He was the Viking watch with Geitir(?). May God now help his spirit and soul."
The Kjula Runestone, is a famous runestone located in Kjula. It tells of a man called Spjót (Spear) who had taken part in extensive warfare in western Europe. Spjót is a unique name and it may have been a name he earned as a warrior.
The English translation reads:
"Alríkr, Sigríðr's son, raised the stone in memory of his father Spjót, who had been in the west, broken down and fought in townships. He knew all the journey's fortresses."
This inscription and that on the Bro Runestone then brings us back to the Ramsund Carving the same family members are mentioned. A twisted plot indeed.
Top image: The Bro Runestone ( Public Domain )
Eskilstuna, N. 2018. Ramsund carving . Atlas obscura
Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/sigurdsristningen-ramsund-carving
Foster, KP. 2013. Runes 101 - Runes in Mythology 9 - Ramsund Runestone. The Wonder of Runes.
Available at: http://ireadrunes.blogspot.com/2013/03/runes-101-runes-in-mythology-9.html
Ramsundsberget, J. 2010 . The Sigurd Runestone . University of Pittsburg
Available at: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/sigurdstone.html